Cortico-limbic response to personally-challenging emotional stimuli after complete recovery from major depression. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. 2009.Abstract.
People vulnerable to depression are at increased risk of relapse if they live in highly critical family environments. To explore this link, we used neuroimaging methods to examine cortico-limbic responding to personal criticisms in healthy participants and participants with known vulnerability to major depression. Healthy controls and fully recovered participants with a past history of major depression were scanned while they heard praising, critical, and neutral comments from their own mothers. Prior to scanning, the formerly depressed and the control participants were indistinguishable with respect to self-reported positive, negative, or anxious mood. They also reported similar mood changes after being praised or criticized. However, formerly depressed participants responded to criticism with greater activation in the amygdala and less activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) than did controls. During praise and neutral commentary, amygdala activation was comparable in both groups, although lower levels of activation in the DLPFC and ACC still characterized formerly depressed participants. Vulnerability to depression may be associated with abnormalities in cortico-limbic activation that are independent of mood state and that remain even after full recovery. Criticism may be a risk factor for relapse because it activates the amygdala and perturbs the affective circuitry that underlies depression.